Muffed en-passant

As usual, there were last second byes, and so me and Alex were matched up together. Alex was nervous, but I wasn’t, as Dean announced a $70 first prize, which would go to either of us if we win.

The Game

The course of this game altered when I played pawn en-passant and wrote my move down, except that when I put my pawn on a3, I didn’t remember to take his a4 pawn at that moment. He quickly took my pawn while I was still writing down the move, and I thought “Why did he leave his pawn on the board? I guess I must have made a visual error.” I thought this because I would have taken his pawn if he hadn’t captured so quickly, and I expected him to do the right thing. Well, he left his a4 pawn on the board because I hadn’t taken it off, he just took my pawn on a3 and left his pawn on a4 and kept playing.

I was scratching my head “Where did my extra pawn go?”, but at the same time I was happy for him now that he was somehow back in the game, and that I would have to earn the victory. Well, I did get what was possibly a winning position later on, but muffed it right when I could force a possibly winning endgame, possibly only a draw but would have been an easy draw for Black. missed a shot of his instead and lost.

After the game, I said “What happened to my pawn?” and then “Hey, you didn’t take your pawn off the board when you quickly captured back on a3.” I was going to follow it up with …BxN, …Qc7 and …Rfb8, which is -1 according to Fruit and in all probability a winning advantage for Black.

If you want to see how the game went and imagine that he still has a pawn on a4, then here is how it went:
Game Score
I almost played 26…Re3, but was trying to optimize as if queens had already been traded on g5, and I was naturally in time-pressure when I played instead 26…Re2??

Another thing I am tire of is chess engine evaluations. Fruit says it’s .9 advantage to play the en-passant, doesn’t even consider it, says it’s 1.67 not to, and then shuffles it’s pieces around endlessly in a draw, not making any progress as Black, but it found a way to practically win after en-passant. I was the only one of me, Alex and Fruit to think that a4 was a blunder, and yet I am “the bad chessplayer” because I lost the game/tournament. It’s almost senseless. Well, if the pawn is off a4 in that position, then …Re3 for example would win easily even against Fruit, but it’s hard to say with the pawn on a4.

The Burden of Proof

…in chess lies on the higher-rated player. Perhaps this is part of the reason that I’ve become uncomfortable over the last half year in dry, technical positions. This is somehow getting worse over time possibly, particularly when combined with tight, sudden-death time controls.

I don’t seem to seriously think about or entertain the notion of draws anymore, as far as initiating them, but I receive draw offers now more than ever.

In this FINAL-ROUND game, my opponent Richard, who is not overly difficult to draw yet quite difficult to beat played 19.BxNg6, and then offered me a draw, thinking that he had given away his advantage with this trade. I had 7 1/2 minutes to his 32 minutes, and spent the next two minutes contemplating the position.

Richard had a correct assessment of the position, which I did not. I figured that he was around .65-.7 advantage, when in reality it is nearly equal.

I did miss a cute tactic at my disposal here at the end. I had feared 20.Rae1 (but mostly with the minor pieces still on the board, before that last trade) Kxh7, 21.Qd5 c6, 22.Qb3 b5, 23.a5 (creating a threat for later of Qb6, Qxa6 and the a-pawn is a passer), and this is equal after the nice tactical resource …RxRe1, 24.RxRe1 Re8 (where both rooks are geting traded because 25.RxRe8?? Qb1 leads to mate. But, I was not keeping this variation separate in my mind from variations such as 21…Re1, 22.Qd5 c6, 23.Qb3 b5, 24.axb5 axb5, 25.RxRe6 QxRe6, 26.QxQe6 fxe6 27.Rd1 d5, 28.b4 and Black has a backward pawn triangle +-.

It’s obvious now that in time-pressure that not only is it difficult to separate distinct variations, but it is also difficult to forget what you were thinking before your opponent played some other move that you weren’t anticipating (in this case, BxNg6).

Of course, I managed my clock atrociously, but I also did not find my way to an advantage in the complications. I did calculate that I was “okay” after the dangerous complications that I had decided to court after 14..BxNf5?! +=, but time must have already been telling as I was thinking there was a 40% chance that I would play the other move 14…BxBe3!, which is =+.

There was a lot to calculate in either of these variations and a lot of branching to consider when looking at both variations. I seemed to be drawn to the more complicated lines, which probably explains my choice, it was one which I could calculate out.

I did not see his, or rather had summarily dismissed his line of 16.fxNg6 and expecting instead either the likely looking 16.fxBe3 Ng6e7 =, or 16.Ne4? Qxf5, 17.fxBe3 Qg4 -+ trading queens. A short, but still rather interesting game.

I did seriously contemplate 14…BxBe3, but in hindsight I missed that I have around five pieces milling about his position after either recapture, where he has a sort of positional attack, but it is only the classic one piece and a pawn after 15.NxBe3, or “two-piece attack” after 15.fxBe3 at that moment.

So, because of that move fourteen failure, this game was more of a strategy slip-up than a tactical slip-up. I am misassessing positions, swotting variations, and most alarmingly of all not wanting to play technical positions. If you look at ragged, crazy tactics in your practice/study time, then it becomes harder to look at more normal positions during play. Back when I played a lot on FICS, I was more used to the technical positions, and was warmed-up when it came to playing them.

In the post-mortem, we did play out the position and twice he lost needlessly, going for a pawn race in both a queen and a rook ending and losing easily, which seemed really weird to me.

Like I say, if I had realised that it was an equal position, I definitely would have played on, but there was no flashing sign with an eval score hovering over the board, so I got that part of it wrong. Yeah, I was swatting up variations because it takes time to calm down from the previous position and just notice the position flat-out, and then it becomes obvious that the threats are no longer there.

Well, at least I am thinking like Fruit now. The variation I was most afraid of before the draw was 20.Qd5 c6, 21.Qb3 b5, 22.axb axb, 23.c4 (I didn’t see this move, but sensed something might be there) which Fruit thinks is like +.65, but then I played it out to a 70 move draw, and Fruit didn’t think it was a draw until the very end. What’s funny is that both I and Fruit, didn’t see 21…Re7 at first. I saw it immediately in the post-mortem, and the proceeded to worry about what White could do down the a-file, although I have the center and the center is open, so why would I worry about the a-file? Obviously I was worried here if he could get a rook on the back-rank and the other one lifted to the third-rank, then Rh3 and Rg3 and all that fun stuff, but it’s almost like you need to remove Black’s pieces from the board and only have White’s pieces on to realize this phantom threat.

Falling Apart Tactically

I should have lost this Game, but you wouldn’t know it by going over the game quickly; maybe because that is how the game was played, quickly. By the time his position was lost, he had spent just under 20 minutes on the game, and I was down to around 3 and a half minutes.

Luckily, he blitzed all game long, well up until he was losing anyway, didn’t even stop to get the kill-shot variation correct. I was fortunate to get a walk-through win when I was playing more like a chess-tourist after yesterday’s loss.

I spent the first five minutes deciding between a King’s Gambit or Spanish, not feeling I deserved to play the King’s Gambit just yet, but regretted not playing it as he went into his Philidoresque, Scotch-Gambit declined variation.

He was letting me off the hook, from a computer’s standpoint, on virtually every move. His first winning tactic which I didn’t see would have been a simple double-attack with 16….BxNf3, 17. RxBf3?? Qa5 (forking Re1 and Bg5). What can I say, I was chessically out of it, and he didn’t punish me for that (probably my high rating caused him to believe me somewhat).

20.Qe3?? At least I can say that I didn’t have time to analyze this move, which of course would still be my fault for frittering away my clock.

22…BxNf3?? Letting me off the hook. I knew this move was bad without any analysis necessary, but he could simply have won a piece with 22…Re8, 23.Qxd6 QxQ, 24.BxQ (24.RxRe8+ is the same difference) BxNf3, 25.RxRe8+ NxRe8, 26.gxBf3 NxBd6. As soon as Fruit showed me 24..BxNf3 was winning a pice, I could quickly see the rest on my own.

The rest of the game, I feel like I sort of intimidated him into the loss more by virtue of previous victories than by anything I did in this game. He sort of believed my attack and then let me through in some winning cheapos there, rather than let me suffer with his huge clock advantage.

The debacle that should have been, but wasn’t; it’s nice to be on the other side of one of these games. Maybe I got psyched out yesterday, and my opponent here got psyched out today. Like I say though, coming off a loss I was sleep-walking through this one, which is why I did it so convincingly.

The New Kid in Town

I felt pressure during this game as people were coming up occasionally to check on this top-board, even though we were in a booth far from the others, as if they were just expecting me to win easily else it would be comical. We were both 2-0 as Justice had beaten Isaac who was just below Expert and also Alex.

Well, I definitely felt the pressure to either win or draw such a lower-rated player, which helps to explain my blunders.

I wanted to play moves such as 17…c5 and even …f6 over the next few moves as Fruit suggests, but I also felt like I had to “do something” against a very lower-rated player, even as Black. Thinking about it now, a draw would have been great because I would have White in the final round, and Justice would probably lose as Black against Paul Anderson. But of course I felt that ratings pressure, to not draw and lose rating points.

I knew that Qxa7 was bad after I played it because of Bc3, and he did play it, and then I was in trouble, seeing that Qb6, tripling on the a-file could be possible. I was going to play …f6, but basically panicked and played the trickier looking …Bf6, removing another piece off the board, and giving him something concrete to “distract him”.

Well, that quickly fell apart, and I would have blitzed …Qg6 instead of …h6, but once again I made the gross mistake of thinking I could save an ending two pawns down, which is so delusional because with my bad pawn structure it’s actually winning for White in an even king and pawn ending, that is how bad it is. He actually had a better idea of how to play the ending in any case even after …Qg6. His coach is Paul Covingt*on, whose floor was 1900 once (he had the USCF remove his floor by request), and Paul is actually an excellent endgame teacher.

Welp, this exactly what can happen when one puts rating points over tournament standing. I cracked under the pressure of the false-idol named rating points. Of course, I should have calmly defended and simply try and make best moves.

One thing to note is that this is what can happen when you play a teenager that mostly studies, and studies with an ex-Expert. So, they skip just about every other tournament and only play in one tournament at that, but they study with Paul C on Friday nights. and even after the game Paul sat down and asked me what Justice could improve on. Well, I probably should have suggested that his student play in the World Open before his rating becomes too high.

Time-controls can have strange effects on people’s games. A lot of players suffer through their middlegames and play some polished or superb endgames. Reduced time has the opposite effect on me; I can play a decent opening, but an equal middlegame or endgame, it’s like I don’t know how to play endgames anymore, so I try not to even attempt them. This is probably what happened to all of those “seven circles” guys, they ran into endgames.

Magnus’ recent interview was so telling. He said how Capablanca won endgames because his middlegame was strong and subtle (he said that Fischer had pointed this out). Magnus says he doesn’t go for openings advantages because most players rarely get them. This is my problem is that I’ve been so used to getting openings advantages, that I can no longer play well in the vast majority of equal positions.

I think I should play more quickly and let the clock and number of moves do some of the heavy-lifting for me. And if I draw then that just means that I suck at the endgame, which I do. I don’t like when people tell me I am a good a endgame player (many local players tell me this) because if I am not and draw some D player, then I feel like everyone will look down on me, when it may actually be a huge achievement for me. A game of chess should be just as legitimate a learning experience for me as it is for the D level players that I face. I remember being a lot better at endgames when there were dual time-controls.

After the game, I though I should have played the endgame with …c5, …f6, and …h6 and the computer agrees, once I trade off queens and pair of rooks. It’s a grueling defense for Black, but I was quite amazed when all of Black’s pawns were on dark squares. It was a draw the whole way, but Black even had winning chances should White go wrong (both sides had this) – like Magnus said the computers have shown use that the rules we thought existed no longer exist in some positions. So clearly I have to focus my ability and time on playing equal endings.

Tactical Intuition

I got paired tonight with Paul Anderson on Board 1, who is generally speaking the strongest club player unless one of the Masters shows up, which would be extremely rare.

The strange thing of it is that he gave me what I wanted out of the opening, and yet still outplayed me.

I started to go wrong on move 13 with h4 instead of h3. I sort of knew this may or may not be true after I had made my move, but was already playing for tricks, mostly since my time had gotten so low.

He sort of fell in with my tactical idea when he played 15…Qh5, which I was relieved to see. I had been looking at 15…f5, 16.Nd5 QxQ, 17.Nxe7+ Kc7, 18.BxQd2 Bxd4, 19.Nxg6 Bxf2 or no, just ..Rg8 followed by Bxf2, in any case I started to feel like my screwy tactics had gotten the better of me. No, that is all an equal mess. It actually is 18…Rhe8, 19.Nxg6 Rxe4! which I had missed, winning the d4 pawn on the next move. No 20.Re1! forces ..RxR, 21.BxRd1 Bxd4, 22.h5 Rg8 =. One wonders how anyone actually wins a game of chess. 😉

After 17.e5, …dxe? was a big mistake according to Fruit, a strategic error. Given that it was how he setup his structure the way he did, it’s amazing how close he came to holding it. It’s a testament to his defensive abilities and proper allocation of time to the moves which warranted it most. If anything, he played a little too quickly, which got him into trouble, but then he would sort of spend the time to figure his way back out of it, was the impression I got.

23…Bxc5??. Now we trade blunders as 24.RxNd7 is convincing ++-. Instead I played the cheeky 24.Qc5, hoping for the blunder …b5??

28.Nb6+ would have been lights-out. I had seen getting my queen to a8 here, but had overlooked that …Kc7 is impossible because then the pawn recapture on d6+ would finish things.

I had looked at 29.Qd4! Nd7, 30.Qa7 but hadn’t noticed that after …Rh7, 31.Qa8+ Nb8 that I had some timely intermezzos like d7 and after the captures on d7 comes the Nb6+ forking d7 and c8.

After 29.Nc5, I knew …Nd7 was coming, but couldn’t come up with the beautiful variation after 30.Nxe6 Qf6, 31.Qa4! temporarily sacrificing the Ne6. I had been looking for this sort of sac, but wasn’t seeing it here. Once again after Qa8+…Nb8 it is ..d7+ to the rescue and Black has powerful queen moves like Qa5+ after …Kc7, which is ++-.

I was thrilled to see 31…NxNc5?, which let me know that he wasn’t fully grasping what was going on tactically in this position.

In my time-pressure of 8 seconds remaining, I began to play the endgame like an idiot, but luckily it was wildly winning by quite a safe margin.

As I walking to my car, I did think about the whole draw thing, how I was glad that I got to play an opponent who wasn’t going to pepper me with draws in key places during my time-pressure. Neither of us thought of or offered a draw, which is how it should really be. What a nuisance that draw offers are!

Before the game, I was listening to a Christian broadcast where the pastor said that when God finds you favor, it is something that a man brings to you. During this game, Peter got me a glass of water, and that is what saved me in my time-pressure, or I would have lost the game because it is too much on my nerves without water. That last game against Rhett where I ridiculously threw away the win and lost, I would have won with a glass of water, but I was pinned to the table for the last hour.

Getting back to the theme of this post, you can see how even a modest amount of tactics study pays off. The key is like Bruce Pandolfini says is to take your study seriously, like a game situation, don’t move the pieces, rather than just blowing through it and “seeing how many tactics you can get in” during your study. As we now know, it’s quality over quantity.

For example, Alex will often see the tactics faster than I do, and even see the best tactic which I don’t see, but his results suffer because he either moves too fast or just doesn’t force himself to concentrate as much as he should at times.

If you want to see something funny, look at who’s #3 in this crosstable. This is why one can’t play chess as if it weren’t a serious game. If you don’t have Facebook, Justice a 1200 player, has two upset wins in this tournament. Justice beat Isaac, who had dropped just below Expert, and also Alex.

What is perhaps just as funny is that Will Wolf has the same 800 page book on the King’s Gambit as I do. Why is this funny? Well, besides the fact that it just _is_, is that the old Master lines aren’t really in there. This is sometimes the problem with openings monographs, they tell you what “should be” rather than explain the theory which led up to it. 95% of the old lines I’ve studied probably won’t even be in that book because they aren’t modern, and will get ignored in favor of “correct analysis”. I don’t know how anyone can learn from a monograph, would probably make you feel way smarter than you should feel.

Okay, I just wrote that and the first game that I see on Chessgames.com is this one:
http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1018972

Which page of a monograph is one going to find this game? I’ve never even seen this line before, let alone how it is played. Good luck with that one for all the aspiring C class players out there.

The Modern Chess Self-Tutor

I am reading this book and gaining some valuable insights. This will be more of a post about “The Art of War” so to speak and include some different sources.

The first thing to do is to come up with different plans, contrast and compare, and then decide on the strongest plan (Pandolfini) – as noted here (go to 9:40 of the interview):

Bronstein refers to the above-mentioned “strongest plan” as “the aim” of your strategy. The aim is to be achieved in stages. So, the goal for you in any given position is to carry out “a stage” corresponding to your aim. This is in contrast to the checkmate position which is merely the last position of a game, and rarely occurs on the chessboard, as Bronstein notes.

BTW, I got all of this out of just the first two pages of Bronstein’s book. lol.

I would recommend this book as “mindset” material, and the quality of it appears to continue on throughout the book; it very concise. I paid 40 cents for this book on Amazon and it looks like new.

Put Your Helmets On

…as Mark said tonight, regarding a tricky Benoni line we were looking on. Well, I was playing the King’s Gambit Declined, so it’s more like “Put your space-hats on” for this one.

The Game was a short one. I’d like to post what I was thinking during the game, and I saw a lot of the computer’s analysis, most of it, but it is difficult to keep the lines straight OTB.

After 10…0-0 (we both played our tenth move rather quickly), I realized that I could/should have played 10…Ng4 instead, but that is a whole nother ball of complications which I did not have to get into, as it turns out.

13…h3?? was the just the blunder I had hoped for in this very tricky position to evaluate and play through. I knew that he had “dropped the chalupa” as soon as he reached for it the second time and played it.

When I played 13…Ne3, I was hoping that he wouldn’t play the setup with Qd2 and Ke2, because I had accurately seen that the ..Rxf3, ..Qh4+, then ..Ng2-f4 maneuver is just equal, but it wasn’t until _after_ I had played 13…Ne3, that I noticed that the Ne3 was immune after 14…Nxb4!. So, incidentally, if White had gone 14.Qd2, then …Nd4! works on the same principle, the immune Ne3 so taking on d4 just gives the Ne3 the d4 pawn to support it with, which I had seen previously, but hadn’t found that tactic to connect it with.

Here is the analysis we were looking at in the post-mortem. I told him right away after he resigned that I would not have taken on a2, but would have played …Ra3 going after his king. What’s weirder is that we went over this variation a second time and I didn’t take his rook on a1, leaving both knights on the board, which Fruit says is even _stronger_, although a little more complex than necessary I have to admit.

I feel very blessed to get away with such an easy win. I had been studying a lot more KGA, and have a line ready for that, it’s a classical line I’ve never played before, although those positions lead to more hair-raising complications, it’s still good for Black. Although modern lines are better for White and who could say what he knew.

Oh, I didn’t take his b4 pawn sac because I wanted to keep my bishop on the diagonal that prevents him from castling, although Fruit definitely prefers taking the pawn (figures, it’s a computer, and can change it’s mind anyway).